Pope Leo X

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Name: Giovanni de Medici
Born: 11 December 1475
Home town: Florence
Died: 1 December 1521
Position: Held Papacy from 9 March 1513 until 1 December 1521
House of: Medici
Personality type: A devious and double-tongued politician and an inveterate nepotist. Good-natured and extremely free-hearted man, who avoids every difficult situation and above all wants peace; he would not undertake a war himself unless his own personal interests were involved; he loves learning; of canon law and literature he possesses remarkable knowledge; he is, moreover, a very excellent musician.
Hobbies: Patron of the arts. Re-founded Rome University.
Strength(s): intelligent, peace-loving, discerning taste in the arts
Weakness(es): Easygoing, extravagant and pleasure loving.
Quirks: Pawning the Vatican Palace furniture and plate. Had a white elephant called Hanno given to him on his coronation by King Manuel I of Portugal.

"Since God has given up the papacy, let us enjoy it"

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The conclave of March 1513 elected, swiftly and without simony (owing to Julius II's stern ban), the thirty seven year old cardinal Giovanni de Medici. Second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, he was born in Florence on 11 December 1475, and was early destined for the church, being tonsured when still seven and named cardinal deacon at thirteen. Leading humanists tutored him as a boy, and he was a student of theology and canon law at Pisa from 1489 to 1491. At seventeen he joined the Sacred College at Rome, but soon returned to Florence on his father's death later in 1492. He left it when his family was exiled 1494, and travelled (1494-1500) in France, Holland (meeting Erasmus), and Germany. Returning to Rome in May 1500, he immersed himself in literature, the arts, the theatre and music, acquiring political influence. Appointed legate of Bologna 1511, with charge of the papal army, he was taken prisoner at Ravenna in April 1512, but escaped. In 1512 he was able to re-establish Medici control of Florence, of which he remained effective ruler until the conclave, and indeed during his pontificate.

A polished Renaissance prince, Leo was also a devious and double-tongued politician and an inveterate nepotist. His aim was to keep Italy and his own Florence free from foreign domination and to advance his family outside Florence. In 1513, faced with a French attempt, in alliance with Venice, to recover Milan and Naples, he reluctantly joined the League of Mechlin (5 April), with Emperor Maximilian I (1493 - 1519), Spain and England. After the defeat of France at Novara (6 June), he reached an understanding with Louis XII (1498 - 1515) under which French withdrew support from the schismatic Council of Pisa (1511 - 1512). When Louis's successor Francis I (1515 - 1547) revived France's claims and defeated the allies at Marignano (13/14 September 1515), recovering Milan for France, Leo switched policies and, against the cardinals' advice meeting the king at Bologna, agreed a settlement with him. The Holy See had to surrender Parma and Piacenza, but he was able to maintain Florence intact for the Medici and, more important, to arrange a concordat with difficulty by the curia, remained operative until the French Revolution. Although this involved unprecedented concessions, allowing the crown to nominate to all higher church offices and reserving only lesser benefices to the pope, it finally removed the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges. Less creditable was the war he waged in 1516 to replace Francesco Maria della Rovere as Duke of Urbino by his own nephew Lorenzo, son of his brother Piero de Medici it resulted in political and financial disaster. In 1517 he turned the tables on some disaffected cardinals who plotted to poison him by executing the leader (Alfonso Petrucci), imprisoning several others, and packing the sacred college by creating (1 July) thirty one new cardinals. The problem of the imperial succession in 1519 showed his diplomacy at its most tortuous, at first, he seemed to favour Francis I of France, at times worked for the Elector Frederick of Saxony (d1525), and only when it became inevitable accepted the Habsburg Charles I of Spain (Charles V, 1519 - 56), in May 1521 concluding an alliance against France with him.

In his electoral oath Leo had undertaken to continue the fifth Lateran Council (1512 - 1517), and as constructive proposals for reform were in the air great hopes were placed on the lead he would give. He duly opened the sixth session on 27 April 1513, and at the eighth and ninth sessions (19 December 1513 and 5 March 1514) received respectively the disavowal of the anti-papal second council of Pisa (1511 - 1512) by Louis XII and the adhesion of the French episcopate: the eight session also ratified a dogmatic definition on the individuality of the human soul. The council later ratified the abolition of the Pragmatic Sanction and Leo's concordat with Francis I. The remaining sessions touched on reform, revealing an awareness of the principal abuses crying out for the removal; but while a reform commission was set up and reform decrees published, these in the main tightened up existing legislation without providing for the means for its enforcement. When Leo closed the council on 16 March 1517, after decreeing a crusade against the Turks and a three year tax on benefices to finance it, it was evident that there had been no sense of the urgency of the situation and no real direction from the pontiff.

Easygoing and pleasure loving, the patron of artists and re-founder (November 1513) of Rome University, Leo was recklessly extravagant, so desperate for money that he pawned his palace furniture and plate. In addition to his pleasures, he had to pay for his wars, the projected crusade, and not least the construction of St Peter's; to raise money he borrowed extensively and sold offices, even cardinals' hats. For St Peter's, he renewed the indulgence authorised by Julius II, and by a lucrative but simoniacal deal with Albrecht of Brandenburg, Archbishop of Magdeburg and Mainz (1490 - 1548), arranged for the indulgences to be promoted by preachers in his dioceses. When the Dominican John Tetzel (c1465 - 1519), began preaching it in January 1517, the Augustian monk Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) reacted by posting his ninety five theses of protest on the church door in Wittenburg. When a summary of Luther's ideas reached Rome early in 1518, Leo instructed the general of his order to silence him. He the tried t win over Luther's protector, the Elector Frederick of Saxony, but had no success. After debates between the theologian Johann Eck (1486 - 1543) and Luther at Leipzig in 1519, Leo published the bull Exsurge domine (15 June 1520) condemning Luther on forty one counts; then on 3 January 1521, Luther having publicly burned the bull, he excommunicated him in the bull Decet Romanum pontificem. On 11 October 1521 he bestowed the title 'Defender of the Faith' on King Henry VIII of England in recognition of his book defending the seven sacraments against Luther. The hesitations and delays in his dealings with the reformer are partly explained by his preoccupation with political and family manoeuvres, but even more by the complete failure of himself and the curia to appreciate the significance of the revolution taking place in the church. When he died suddenly of malaria he left Italy in political turmoil, northern Europe in growing religious disaffection, and the papal treasury deeply in debt.

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A report of the Venetian ambassador Marino Giorgi bearing the date of March 1517 indicates some of his predominant characteristics:

The pope is a good-natured and extremely free-hearted man, who avoids every difficult situation and above all wants peace; he would not undertake a war himself unless forced into it by his advisors; he loves learning; of canon law and literature he possesses remarkable knowledge; he is, moreover, a very excellent musician.


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  • "Now we are in the power of a wolf, the most rapacious perhaps that this world has ever seen. And if we do not flee, he will inevitably devour us all..." Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici, later Pope Leo X criticises the election of Rodrigo Borgia and Pope Alexander and predicts of things to come.
  • "Made thirty, we should make thirty-one" Said on 1 July 1517, when he created 30 new cardinals. Another priest, who seemed to him also worthy, was nominated during the ceremony.
  • "It is a heretical opinion, but a common one, that the sacraments of the New Law give pardoning grace to those who do not set up an obstacle". Exsurge Domine, Bull of Pope Leo X issued June 15, 1520, condemning the 95 theses of Martin Luther.
  • "To deny that in a child after baptism sin remains is to treat with contempt both Paul and Christ". Exsurge Domine, Bull of Pope Leo X issued June 15, 1520.
  • "The inflammable sources of sin, even if there be no actual sin, delay a soul departing from the body from entrance into heaven". Exsurge Domine, Bull of Pope Leo X issued June 15, 1520.
  • "To one on the point of death imperfect charity necessarily brings with it great fear, which in itself alone is enough to produce the punishment of purgatory, and impedes entrance into the kingdom". Exsurge Domine, Bull of Pope Leo X issued June 15, 1520.
  • "That there are three parts to penance: contrition, confession, and satisfaction, has no foundation in Sacred Scripture nor in the ancient sacred Christian doctors". Exsurge Domine, Bull of Pope Leo X issued June 15, 1520.
  • "Sins are not forgiven to anyone, unless when the priest forgives them he believes they are forgiven" Exsurge Domine, Bull of Pope Leo X issued June 15, 1520.
  • "Hence, I say, trust confidently, if you have obtained the absolution of the priest, and firmly believe yourself to have been absolved, and you will truly be absolved, whatever there may be of contrition". Exsurge Domine, Bull of Pope Leo X issued June 15, 1520.
  • "Christians must be taught to cherish excommunications rather than to fear them". Exsurge Domine, Bull of Pope Leo X issued June 15, 1520.
  • "It has served us well, this myth of Christ". Disputed

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  • Several historians have suggested that Leo may have been homosexual. Some contemporary tracts and accounts such as that of Francesco Guicciardini have been found to allude to active same-sex relations – alleging Count Ludovico Rangone and Galeotti Malatesta among his lovers. Some tracts (possibly libellous) contend that he died while in bed engaged in a sexual act with a youth.
  • He was the last non-priest to be elected Pope. He is known primarily for the sale of indulgences to reconstruct St Peter's Basilica and his challenging of Martin Luther's 95 theses.
  • He once had a boy painted in gold from head to toe parading down the streets of Florence. It was to imply the "return of the Golden Age under Medici Rule" The boy later died as a result of probably lead poison from the gold paint.

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  • The Oxford Dictionary of Popes by JND Kelly
  • Pope Leo X : Opponent of the Reformation by Robin S Doak
  • The Popes by John Julius Norwich
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